India, Myanmar Strengthen Military Ties

By Nan Lwin 30 July 2019

YANGON—India and Myanmar strengthened their military ties on Monday by signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on defense cooperation, including advancing the Myanmar military’s capacity, according to a statement from India’s Ministry of Defense.

The MOU was signed during a trip to India made by Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.

The agreement was inked after Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing held an extensive talk in New Delhi with Indian Union Minister of State for Defense Shripad Yesso Naik.

The meeting was aimed at enhancing defense cooperation between the two nations, reviewing joint exercises and training provided to the Myanmar military, strengthening maritime security via joint surveillance and capacity building, enhancing medical cooperation, cooperating on pollution responses and jointly developing new infrastructure, the Ministry of Defense statement said.

Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing is currently on an official, 9-day visit to India, invited by Indian Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa. In an online statement, his office said New Delhi has assured him it will provide Myanmar with further assistance upgrading its armed forces capabilities.

During a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing expressed his gratitude to India for cooperating on peace in border-area security, and for providing technical assistance in upgrading the capabilities of Myanmar’s armed forces, according to his online statement.

The statement also said both sides discussed cooperating on peace and stability in Rakhine State.

In recent months, India and Myanmar have launched two phases of the joint Operation Sunrise, targeting rebel groups that impact both India and Myanmar, according to reports in Indian news media.

The operation’s first phase was launched in February and it destroyed several camps close to both southern and northern portions of the border between Myanmar and the Indian state of Mizoram. Coordinated, intensive operations between the two forced the Khaplang faction of the Naga rebel group the National Socialist Council of Nagaland to shut down camps in Taga, in Myanmar’s Sagaing Region, after facing heavy losses.

“Myanmar is a key pillar of India’s Act East Policy towards prioritizing relations with its East Asian neighbors,” reads the Indian Ministry of Defense statement. “India has steadily increased defense cooperation with Myanmar in recent years.”

India adopted its Look East policy in 1991 to enhance economic and strategic relations with Southeast Asia, in an effort to strengthen its role as a regional power and to provide a counterweight to China’s regional influence. Prime Minister Modi has carried the policy to the next level, renaming it the Act East Policy.

Myanmar serves as a crucial buffer state between China and India and also plays a crucial part in China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative. Because China is developing a deep-sea port in Kyaukphyu Township, in Rakhine State, maritime cooperation between India and Myanmar has become key for the latter. The port would give China direct access to the Indian Ocean and allow its oil imports to bypass the Strait of Malacca.

New Delhi has been trying to gain transit access through Bangladesh to its landlocked northeastern states. The Kaladan Multi-Modal Transit Transport Project—a key element of its Act East Policy for which it signed a framework agreement with Myanmar in 2008—is expected to open sea routes and a highway transport system linking the eastern Indian seaport of Kolkata with its landlocked northeastern state of Mizoram through Myanmar’s Rakhine and Chin states.

In Myanmar, the link will connect the Sittwe seaport in Rakhine State to Paletwa in Chin State via the Kaladan River route, and Paletwa to Mizoram State by road.

The project includes 158 kilometers (98 miles) of waterway on the Kaladan River in Myanmar, from Sittwe to Paletwa, and a 109-kilometer road along the India-Myanmar border from Paletwa to Zorinpui, in Mizoram State in India.

The project also aims to reduce the travel distance from Kolkata to Sittwe by about 1,328 kilometers through the use of waterways, reducing by three or four days the time needed to transport goods through the narrow Siliguri Corridor, also known as the “Chicken’s Neck.”

According to the Kaladan Movement, an organization of civil society groups, the Indian government expects the Kaladan project to increase economic linkages with Myanmar and the rest of Southeast Asia.

During the trip, Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, accompanied by a high-level delegation from the Myanmar Defense Services, met with India’s Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat and Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Karambir Singh.

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